High-Impact Faculty Development: How El Camino College Helps Faculty Implement Learning-Centered Techniques in the Classroom

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Have you experienced this scenario? Your faculty members attend a professional development training and return to campus excited to try new ideas. Fast-forward a few months…and little has changed because pedagogical transformation was shunted aside in favor of day-to-day teaching and research obligations.

When this scenario happened at El Camino College, a group of faculty decided to change it.

“Life’s very, very busy so it’s hard to take this next step,” explains Kristie Daniel-DiGregorio, Professor of Human Development. Along with her colleagues, she noticed that faculty would feel “electrified” by training, but that afterward, techniques were only implemented in an ad hoc fashion. She and a team of her colleagues wondered what would happen if the college continued to support their professional development on an ongoing basis after the training concluded. El Camino’s Faculty Inquiry Partnership Program — FIPP — was created to do just that.

And they’ve been tracking the results. Student success rates in courses taught by faculty who participated in FIPP are two percent higher than rates in courses taught by faculty who had not attended. More than 90% of students reported that the strategies faculty in FIPP employed helped them better understand the material and increased their interest in the content. 97% of El Camino faculty in FIPP continued to use two or more of the learning strategies in their teaching, and nearly half reported using six or more strategies.

We wanted to learn more about what has made El Camino’s program successful, and we reached out to Daniel-DiGregorio to learn more about:

  1. The components of FIPP: How it works
  2. The role that peer accountability plays in the program
  3. Some proven practices for institutions that may be considering a similar approach

1. How FIPP Works

FIPP pairs faculty in order to empower both implementation and accountability. FIPP participants begin the program by joining a cohort of about 35 El Camino faculty members who attend a training by On Course Workshop during the summer or winter intersession. The three-day training focuses on active engagement and how to motivate students to take ownership of their learning through learner-centered strategies.

But unlike what you see in many faculty development intiatives, in FIPP the real work begins after the training, when faculty members are paired up and work collaboratively to implement the new On Course strategies in their teaching. According to Daniel-DiGregorio, each faculty member is paired with someone from a different academic department because the goal is for them to talk about how they teach, not what they teach.

The pairs pick four or five strategies to focus on initially, one from each of the areas of learning defined by On Course. For example:

  • One strategy should impact the classroom environment
  • One strategy should impact expectations of learners
  • One should be related to classroom activities
  • One should be related to out-of-the-classroom learning or homework

This structure ensures that faculty are adapting and improving every aspect of their teaching. Specific learner-centered strategies might include creating success teams in class or writing a class constitution that defines expectations and goals for the term. Another favorite is the “Silent Socratic method,” in which students write down questions and pass them back and forth to facilitate learning during the class session.

The faculty pairs try one of the new strategies in the classroom on a regular basis and meet with their partner to discuss what worked and brainstorm what they might do differently next time. “Here you have support for when things go wrong,” Daniel-DiGregorio adds. “It’s problem-solving so we can more effectively support our students.”

2. Accountability Makes a Difference

After the initial On Course training, FIPP participants are held accountable by being required to complete a variety of tasks. Faculty do receive a small stipend for their time, but Daniel-DiGregorio points out that the partner- and community-centered nature of FIPP is equally motivating: “It’s accountability not just because of the stipend but because you’re part of a community.”

FIPP participants are expected to:

  • Attend monthly workshops and learn new strategies
  • Turn in monthly activity reports detailing techniques they’ve tried
  • Meet regularly with their assigned partners to plan and troubleshoot
  • Some also present at leadership workshops or organize other teaching-centered events

Importantly, the accountability structures are designed to support faculty in implementing new techniques, not to be punitive. Ideally, the cohort experience would continue after the FIPP program, but Daniel-DiGregorio notes that the course load for full-time faculty — six courses per semester — is a significant challenge. Faculty only receive release time if they have other funding.

But FIPP does ensure the institution sees a payoff from investing in faculty training. At the institution’s Compton Center, which partnered with El Camino in 2006, they saw, in some cases, jumps of 15 to 20 percent in student success rates. Daniel-DiGregorio reports that FIPP has also sparked more conversation about pedagogy across the campus, beyond the program itself; she frequently sees “a roomful of dedicated educators talking about our students.”

3. Proven Strategies for Improving Teaching and Student Success

FIPP owes its success to a number of best practices that El Camino instituted in the program. Training, accountability and interdisciplinary pairs are essential; other keys to the program’s success include:

  • El Camino has focused on new faculty in order to create change on campus. The most recent cohort included 32 faculty who were hired within the past three years, along with two others with longer periods of service.
  • Training is more effective when scaffolded so that faculty build on their learning in specific areas. The monthly workshop builds on established foundations as faculty troubleshoot challenges and learn new strategies.
  • Faculty members learn from each other’s successes and failures, which builds enthusiasm for trying new strategies and empowers faculty to avoid mistakes that others have made in implementation. Faculty pairs present their experiences at the monthly meetings, and the monthly reports detailing the successes and challenges of a specific technique are shared with the whole group.

In other words, what FIPP has achieved that is often difficult in higher education is that it has created a safe environment where faculty can innovate and take risks — and continue to take risks. It has also given faculty a structured way to take new ideas gained through professional development, test them, and put them to immediate use. Daniel-DiGregorio stresses the importance of this: Unless there’s a follow-up structure to support learning, the new practices faculty learn can fall by the wayside. Clear deadlines, schedules, orientation materials and other supports are necessary to build momentum and to provide that safe place for risk taking.

“We created change. We created change that can be quantified,” Daniel-DiGregorio adds proudly. “As a result, we have been able to move the needle on student success.”

Tips for Supporting Your Faculty

Time-crunched faculty often want to implement new learning strategies for their students, but may have a difficult time implementing techniques successfully or thinking through how they would rework a particular lesson. Here are some ideas you can try at your institution to ensure that what’s learned in training makes it into the classroom:

  • Pair up faculty or use small groups to encourage discussion and problem-solving in a supported environment.
  • Consider selecting junior faculty or even pairing newer faculty with more experienced faculty for more successful implementation of active learning strategies in classrooms across campus.
  • Create structured opportunities for the sharing of ideas and experiences, to encourage faculty to learn from each other and take risks.
  • Keep the environment positive and supportive to reward faculty for trying new strategies, even if some first attempts are not successful.

Other Recent Examples of Innovative Faculty Development

You may also be interested in these articles:

  • Beyond Workshops: How RIT Incentivizes Faculty Development
  • Improving Student Success by Providing Adjuncts a One-Stop Shop for Professional Development
  • How McKendree University Makes Faculty Development Exciting While Keeping Costs Down

What is your institution doing to develop its faculty? If you have a case study or an innovative model to share, please let us know! Email our Director of Research and Publications, Daniel Fusch, at daniel@academicimpressions.com to share what you’ve tried that works.